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Greg Hughes graduated from Princeton in 1996, in between the commencement years of football coach Bob Surace ’90 and basketball coach Mitch Henderson ’98.
Both Surace and Henderson got productive seasons out of freshmen on their respective Princeton squads this past season, and now Hughes will have that same opportunity on a varsity level.
A rule change in men’s rowing now allows freshmen to compete at the varsity level, and it has altered Hughes’ view on his entire squad.
“It’s a strong class, and I don’t think I see them seperately anymore,” Hughes said. “I guess it’s like other coaches, who just see their players as forwards or point guards. They don’t care that they are freshmen.
“It has led me to be more aware of them, and in greater contact,” Hughes said. “Their development can impact us right away. If they earn it, they’ll get the chance.”
The freshman class can come in a little hungrier, knowing it now has the opportunity to compete in the biggest collegiate races of the season. But they will have to earn it against three classes of returning rowers who are just as hungry to wipe away the disappointment of the 2012 IRA national championships, as well as compete for its first Eastern Sprints championship since 2006.
Princeton will open its 2013 season Saturday morning at 8 am against Georgetown and Syracuse. The first varsity competition will be open a full home weekend of Tiger rowing. The third-ranked Princeton open women will take on No. 6 Ohio State and No. 13 Brown at 9 am, while the men's lightweights will compete against Georgetown at 10:40.
On Sunday, the women's lightweights will make their season debut against Wisconsin at 8 am in a showdown between the last two Eastern Sprints champions.
You might think that Princeton is especially looking forward to meeting Syracuse, since it was the Orangemen that pulled past the Tigers in the 2012 IRA semifinal. But Hughes isn’t even remotely interested in looking at any other program out there.
“Honestly, I don’t care about anybody else,” he said. “We have stuff we need to take care of right here.”
Hughes is more than pleased about the work being done, both on his staff and from his rowers. He considers Spencer Washburn, his partner-in-crime since their days winning national titles with the Princeton lightweights, as a “co-coach.”
And he has two coaching interns with spectacular résumés, including one who will have a keen understanding of the challenges facing the Princeton student-athlete. Ian Silveira ’12 stroked the Princeton varsity eight last season and has returned to begin his coaching career, and he is joined by Rob Munn, the former Washington captain who led the Huskies to two straight IRA national championships.
“They have been a great addition,” Hughes said of the pair that helped the U.S. men’s eight win a U-23 World Championship last summer. “Both are training here, and both are working hard with our team. It’s exciting to have a guy like Rob who has won the races that we want to win.”
To win those races this season, Princeton will need to find the right mix of talent from its four classes, and then they will have to perform in the biggest races. If any of the younger rowers need an example of what it takes to reach that optimal level, they’ll need to look no further than their own captain, Mike Evans, who helped the British fours to a bronze medal at the U-23 Worlds.
“Mike is a very seasoned rower with a lot of experience,” Hughes said. “A guy like that helps any program, and he creates a target for our younger rowers as what they need to strive for. He brings a lot of intensity to the boathouse.”
Clearly, that intensity is rubbing off on all classes, as shown in a very tight finish in the 13th annual Crash P’s, the boathouse-wide 2K erg race. Freshman Pat Eble, sophomore James Hamp and junior Jason Kopelman were among the top performers, which shows the dispersed talent within the program.
"Programs get faster when there is competition from the bottom up, starting with walk-on and 3V guys and moving all the way up to the varsity," junior David Mackasey said. "When these boats perform, it forces the other boats to respond and race even harder to continue to get faster. We’ve raced hard every week through spring break as we near our season and as coaches try to make sense of potential line-ups. We’ve made gains on our boat speed and no matter who ends up sitting in which seats, I think Princeton Crew, not only the heavyweight program, is ready to make a push at something special this spring."
With freshman eligibility and good depth throughout the program, there could be greater mixing and matching in the first few weeks of the season as Hughes tries to find the right group for his top four boats. The season starts with two home races, which includes next weekend's regatta against Navy (9 am). The four-weeks of Ivy League/Cup competitions begin April 13 with the Childs Cup, and each of the last two Eastern Sprints champions (Harvard and Brown) will pay visits to Lake Carnegie.
"Princeton is a program that strives for excellence each and every year," Mackasey said. "The results that we saw at the IRA were disappointing and definitely not where we want to be a couple months from now. Last year’s results have motivated guys to train harder this year so as to not only compete with an incredibly competitive field, but to hopefully finish ahead."